The New Dimension and Approach of Tribal Welfare

Toyaka Sanganna

Those people, who have participated in the historically developed cultural process of the country, constitute what we call the Great Society of India, a term which is almost synonymous with Indian Nation. This society is connected with the world forces through a network of relationships-direct and indirect. Thus in order to understand the Indian society we must analyse the dual process of the world force which the country shares with the other nations of the world, and the distinctive features which are unique to it.

However, there are groups of people in India who were segregated from the main currents of national life due to historical reasons. These groups of people are today termed as tribes and are distinguished by a social structure which is very different from ours. The characteristics of a tribal society are its primitive technology and consequently a primitive economy and a consolidated social structure, which unlike our own regulates almost all aspects of their social and individual behaviour. It gives an apparent notion of “arrested growth”. It is true that the technology of tribal people is extremely primitive compared to modern industrial technology and this is because an advanced industrial technology can only develop on a world plane, it is not possible in self-contained, small communities. But should it mean that the tribes have not continued to grow during centuries of their existence, thus violating one of the fundamental laws of nature that “whatever lives must grow”? The question posed here is not at all new, as a matter of fact it is one of the oldest problems of Anthropology and other human sciences. It is a scientifically based proposition that though the technology of the tribal people remained primitive, their social mechanism continued to develop and achieve highly effective methods of social living, of resolving conflicts and fostering corporate life. Their distinctive cultural processes were geared towards deriving maximum joy out of life. If we try to evaluate the achievements of a society, not by its material products but in terms of man himself, it may raise genuine doubts about the backwardness of the tribes and the advanced nature of our own society. It is stupendous draw-back of the modern civilization, of which our society is a component, that the mechanisms which are intended to serve man have become more important than man himself and threaten to obliterate him. This has not been the case with tribal societies where human happiness is directly explored and never lost sight of.

It is necessary to focus attention on this aspect of tribal societies. It goes to the credit of the Anthropologists that abundant data have been collected on the society and culture of the tribes, but a greater task lies ahead of us. The scientific data needs to be evaluatively assessed so that it can be used to improve human relations in our society. This may sound as a plea for our own development rather than that of the tribes. This is partially true. All our efforts to develop the tribal people are vitiated by a patronizing attitude. This attitude should be radically altered and for this there should be widespread appreciation of the fact that the tribal societies can contribute substantially for our own development and such contributions are essentially and urgently required by our society. This will give a new direction to tribal welfare and make it an integrated part of National Welfare.

What is said here should never be construed to mean that the tribal people are quite happy and can be happy without the material benefits and amenities of modern civilization. They are certainly miserable without it, as only social organization is not sufficient to sustain the alround prosperity and happiness of a people. What is needed here is an integration between the material benefits and the social mechanisms for their utilization. In our enthusiasm to improve the tribal people; or may be due to lack of it, we often destroy the best things of their society and culture. The destruction is all the more complete because what are best in tribal life are not tangible things. They are forms of human behaviour and patterns of social relationships, which, once destroyed leave no trace behind them. What is more distressing is the fact that this destruction is one-sided because it is not compensated by the improvement of material conditions of the tribal people. This is because man assimilates change through its social mechanism. If this mechanism is destroyed, entire life is dislocated and no improvement becomes possible.

It even makes the very existence of a people hazardous.

I may here sound a note of caution. The searches for the essence of tribal life are very often carried to absurd ends, laying emphasis on the superficial and losing sight of the essential. The principle “means justifies ends” should always prevail. For example it is thought that items of dress, pieces of ornaments, utensils and implements are endowed with mysterious attributes. Everything that is tribal is idealized. and glorified This sort of mentality tries to keep the tribes isolated from the whole world and preserve them in primitive poverty. This perverted outlook on the tribes is sometimes wrongly attributed to the anthropologists, but no reputed anthropologist ever held such an opinion. It has been strongly condemned as an unscientific proposition but the idea has taken root among some administrators and planners. It should be strongly emphasized that radical changes should be introduced among the tribes. They require all the technological achievements available to modern civilization and the best is only good enough as these have been denied to them uptil now.

Introduction of modern technology to improve the material condition of the tribal people, preservation and visualization of the core of their society and culture, assimilation of their pattern of human relationship by our society: these are then our problems. And these are not disparate problems. They should be tackled as an integrated whole. To this task our scientists, planners and administrators should address themselves, in all seriousness.

(Source: Adibasi , 14th November 1963, 1963-64 Number Two, Tribal Research Bureau, Orissa)